Crohn's Disease in Children

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) where one or more parts of a child’s intestinal tract become inflamed. Crohn’s disease is a chronic but highly manageable disease.

Jake, who is now free of Crohn’s disease, on a golf course, taking a swing.

While Crohn’s is more commonly diagnosed in young adults, it does affect children as well. Some important facts about Crohn’s in children and teens:

  • Symptoms may be mild or severe.
  • Crohn’s often affects the small intestine, but can affect any part of the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, appendix, colon or anus.
  • There is no cure, however, the right treatment plan can minimize or eliminate symptoms with medication and lifestyle changes.
  • The disease can go into long periods of remission, for months to even years.
  • It can affect any region of the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, appendix, colon or anus. The most common area to be affected is the last part of the small intestine (terminal ileum).
  • In rare cases, it starts with orofacial granulomatosis (OFG), a chronic inflammatory condition of the mouth highly associated with Crohn’s that often progresses to the bowel.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease in children?

While symptoms may affect each child differently, common symptoms include unexplained fevers and diarrhea with or without blood. A child may be losing weight and not growing as expected, since the pain may make them not want to eat, and inflammation may prevent the small intestine from absorbing the nutrients the body needs.

Other symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain, often in the lower right area
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • rectal bleeding (although often associated with ulcerative colitis)
  • blood in the stools or black, tar-like stools
  • joint pain
  • rashes

Some infections can cause symptoms like these, and it’s important for these to be excluded as possible causes. Crohn’s can be a challenging disease for a child to have, and reassurance and support can go a long way toward making a child feel better.

What causes Crohn’s disease in children?

Scientists have not yet discovered the cause of Crohn’s disease, but it’s an area of active research. We believe that both genes and the environment play a role. We also know that the immune system is involved, which is why treatment often involves medication to reduce its activity.

How we approach Crohn’s disease in children

We are part of the #1-ranked children's hospital by U.S. News & World Report, which includes a dedicated team of doctors and specialists in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center. Our team provides a range of services and support for children and teenagers with Crohn's disease:

  • second opinions
  • management of IBD in school, work or social situations
  • management of medications
  • nutritional counseling
  • growth and development monitoring
  • surgical care (in certain cases)

Our world-class care team helps children by providing individualized treatment plans and access to more specialized care than any other hospital. We see approximately 2,500 children each year, and our work is guided by our belief that children and young adults with IBD can live a happy and unhindered life. We care for children in Boston and in our many locations in Massachusetts.

As a leading referral center for pediatric IBD, our Center is committed to discovering the causes of, and improving the treatments for, Crohn’s disease in children.